Database on medals sought to catch frauds
WASHINGTON — A pair of congressmen want to establish the first database for military awards to help law enforcement officials catch and prosecute military frauds.
The measure, to be introduced in the House this week, would collect the names of all current and former servicemembers who have earned military medals including the Medal of Honor, Silver Star and Purple Heart. Certain Coast Guard and Merchant Marine medals also would be included.
That database would be made available to law enforcement and certain researchers to help them determine rightful heroes from clever frauds.
Last year, Congress approved the Stolen Valor Act, making false possession and display of certain high-level military medals punishable by up to six months in jail.
But sponsor Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., said many of the cases proved difficult to prosecute because investigators had no way to prove or disprove whether a suspect actually earned any medals.
“These honors are reserved for those who willingly risked their lives for our country,” he said in a statement. “It is our job to protect the honor and integrity of our veterans, to make sure the memory of their heroism is not tarnished.”
Defense Department officials had no comment on the pending legislation. Many of the service’s old records are spread out through various subagencies and are not yet digitized, which likely would make creating the database a cumbersome task.
Doug Sterner, a Vietnam veteran whose research has exposed dozens of military frauds, agrees that compiling the data will take time, but insists it is not an impossible task.
In his research, he has tracked down numerous missing or forgotten citations, and said putting together a clearinghouse of medal recipients will prevent those records from being lost again.
“I think that’s the real value of this bill,” he said. “Having a database to help expose frauds is good. But having a database to preserve history and our heroes is even more important.”
Salazar and co-sponsor Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., said recent reports of new scam artists claiming to be Iraq veterans further underscore the need for the legislation.
Last month, researchers also discovered that the Veterans History Project, a multimillion-dollar collection of more than 50,000 oral and written war stories from Americans sponsored by the Library of Congress, included many stories of men claiming medals they never earned.